Resource Center / Health and Lifestyle / How to Evaluate a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC)

How to Evaluate a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC)

Learn how to evaluate continuing care retirement communities with tips from Seniorly. Make informed decisions on the right community that fits your needs.

By Marlena del Hierro Updated on Jun 27, 2023
Reviewed by Angelica P. Herrera-Venson · Reviewed on Mar 28, 2023

Healthy, active seniors increasingly find continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) an attractive option, since these communities offer multiple levels of care.

From independent living to specialized memory care, you can find what you need within a single community. Let's take a deeper look.

What is a continuing care retirement community?

CCRCs are a newer option available to seniors who prefer the idea of “aging in place,” and the New York Times reported that there are around 2,000 CCRCs located across the United States from which seniors can choose today.

CCRCs can be both private and non-profit. With no national, government-sponsored rating system available for CCRCs in 2023, it can be tougher to compare facilities.

However, this guide will help you ask the right questions when you’re evaluating a continuing care retirement community, so you’ll be able to make an informed decision.

Planning your tour of CCRCs and senior living communities

Choosing the right retirement community is vital. You can start your search by checking out CCRCs online to determine which ones you might be interested in based on your geographic areas of interest and the services and amenities you’re interested in. Your local Area Agency on Aging can also furnish you with a list.

After you have a short list of communities you want to visit in person, you can set up personal tours of the community on your own or with one of our Seniorly Local Advisors.

Why go in person? Visiting the community will give you the chance to experience the feel of the campus for yourself. There’s only so much you can gauge from reading reviews and viewing community photos.

Deciding to move to a CCRC is a huge step, and you want to make sure that you have all the information possible before you make a decision.

What should you be looking for on your tours?

Despite all of our research, planning, and preparation, the decision to move into any senior living environment often comes down to a feeling. Because of this, one of the most important things for prospective residents to evaluate on your CCRC visit is the gut feeling you get.

Does it feel like home? Could you see yourself living there and being happy? Are there transportation services? Health care services? Personal services? Furthermore, do you or your loved one require skilled nursing care?

Make the most of your tour by checking out every part of the CCRC. Spend time viewing the different types of accommodations and amenities.

If dining facilities are open, check out the menu and try out a meal to see how you feel about the food. See if they are accommodating to any dietary restrictions or offer a wide range of food options.

Moreover, learn about the campus community events and recreational activities to get a feel for what’s available and how many residents actually get involved with them.

Talk to staff members of a senior living community

Many CCRCs will provide you with a staff member to guide you on the tour. This is a great time to ask plenty of questions, but don’t just talk to your guide.

Find ways to talk with the community’s current residents, since they will have an inside look at the benefits and the potential hidden pitfalls of living in the community. Talking to residents also lets you figure out if you’re comfortable with having these people as your friends and neighbors in the future.

Important questions to ask about CCRCs

It’s essential to make a list of questions before touring so you don’t miss anything. You can ask your tour guide questions or talk to a representative after your tour to make sure all of your questions are answered. Here’s a list of some of the most important questions you’ll want to ask the CCRC when evaluating them:

Who lives in this CCRC, and what types of programs are offered?The average age of new CCRC residents is around 80, but many communities focus on attracting younger seniors. Find out the average age of residents in the CCRCs you’re considering and what types of activities they’re involved in. A CCRC with older residents and programs tailored to an older age group may not appeal as much to you if you’re a younger senior with different interests.

  • What services are included in the monthly fees, and what costs extra? When you find out about the community’s monthly fees, make sure you ask about what is included with those fees and what will cost extra. In some cases, extra fees could result in you spending a lot more than the published fees each month. This is especially important if you’re comparing two CCRCs and one operates on an all-inclusive model while the other operates a la carte.
  • How have fees changed within the past five years? In most cases, you can expect monthly fees to increase at least once a year to keep up with inflation. However, it’s a good idea to ask the CCRC how their fees have changed over the past few years. This will give you a good indication of what you can expect and what can be an indication of the CCRCs' financial viability. The average annual fee increase generally runs about 3-4%. Pay close attention to trends in real estate in the surrounding area, as that can influence possible increases in monthly fees.
  • Does the CCRC offer refundable entry fees, and if so, what are the stipulations for receiving a refund Ask if entry fees are refundable and, if so, what the stipulations are for receiving a refund. Verify if your residence has to be resold before you get your refund and whether there is a maximum time limit whereby your refund will be repaid.
  • What happens if you run out of money and are unable to pay monthly fees? Many CCRCs, especially non-profits, will do everything possible to help residents stay in place and continue receiving services if they run out of money to pay fees. CCRCs often have special endowment funds or financial assistance to help residents that face financial difficulties in the future. However, some CCRCs could ask you to leave if you’re unable to pay. Be sure to find out what options the CCRCs you’re considering have in place to assist you if money does become a problem in the future.
  • What’s the occupancy rate of the CCRC? A CCRC occupancy rate is a good measure of its viability. Ask about the occupancy rate of the CCRCs you’re considering.  Kiplinger encourages seniors to beware of communities with an occupancy rate of less than 90% unless they’re dealing with a new community.
  • What transportation is available? Forbes recommends checking to see what transportation is available to you at the CCRC and whether you’re permitted to have your own vehicle. Check to see if the community is located close to public transport and if any type of transportation is provided. If so, another good question to ask would be: Will you need to pay extra for transportation if it’s available?
  • How safe is the community? Many CCRCs are gated and have security guards that keep the grounds secure. However, every community is different. Ask about security and all the precautions taken by the community to keep residents safe. Find out about individual unit security features as well, such as alarms or door cameras. The CCRC may also have a policy that certain entrances or doors are shut after a certain time

Other questions to ask CCRCs:

What different housing options are available, and do service packages differ between housing options? Are housekeeping services and meal plans included with service packages?

  • What are the added costs of memory care, if needed?
  • How well are the buildings and grounds maintained?
  • Is there easy access on the campus for mobility devices?
  • Is the community located near places of interest to you, such as parks, theatres, museums, shopping, etc?
  • Is Wi-Fi provided throughout the community?
  • What modifications can be made to units, in case you prefer different decor?
  • What are the community rules on smoking and drinking?
  • If utilities are covered, what utilities will be included?
  • What are the CCRCs rules about visitors and overnight guests?
  • Are meal plans available? If so, are special menus available (i.e. vegan, vegetarian), and are menus checked by registered dieticians?
  • Are there community libraries, exercise rooms, media rooms, etc.?
  • Are wellness classes and clinics offered on the premises?
  • What are the qualifications of CCRC staff members?
  • How are resident complaints handled by the CCRC?

Evaluating all the CCRC information you need to make an informed decision

Once you’ve visited several CCRCs in contention, made observations, and asked your questions, it’s time to evaluate and consider everything you’ve learned.Make sure you’ve collected materials from every community and taken notes on your tours. It’s even a good idea to snap photos or a few videos while you’re touring these communities so you’re better able to evaluate what you saw and learned.

After doing your due diligence, take all the information you’ve compiled and compare it to your own preferences and needs to make an informed decision on the right CCRC for your unique needs.

Find a CCRC near you!
written by:
Marlena del Hierro

Marlena del Hierro is Vice President of Partnerships and Seniorly’s Lead Gerontologist. Marlena earned her Master of Arts degree in Gerontology from San Francisco State University and her Bachelor of Arts degree in Human Development from California State University. She also serves in an advisory capacity for Jukebox Health. As Seniorly’s first employee, Marlena is a vocal advocate for evolving the aging paradigm, and is a frequent contributor to public discussions about aging. She has served as a resource for media outlets like WGBH, FOX News, CNBC and the Today Show.

To learn more about Seniorly's editorial guidelines, click here.

View other articles written by Marlena

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